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Courts Libra system 'is one of the worst IT projects ever seen'

Tony Collins
The cost of the Libra project to provide a national system for 385 magistrates courts soared from £146m to £390m, and the main supplier Fujitsu twice threatened to withdraw unless it was paid more money.

When seeking extra money from the Lord Chancellor's Department, which oversees magistrates courts, Fujitsu also issued deadlines for officials to make a decision on whether to renegotiate the contract.

Unless the department met Fujitsu's deadlines, the company might have withdrawn from the contract, said a report published yesterday (Wednesday) by the public spending watchdog the National Audit Office.

Although the principle of PFI was that the main risks were transferred to the supplier, the report by the audit office revealed that the Lord Chancellor's Department felt it could not afford to allow Fujitsu to withdraw from the contract. Magistrates courts could have been left with only minimal support for national systems that were still being installed.

During an independent Gateway review of the Libra project in 2001 senior managers at Fujitsu said the company should never have signed the contract.

A second Gateway review in February 2002 found that Fujitsu had made "too many mistakes early in the life of the project" including a poor analysis of requirements, unrealistic cost estimates, and frequent personnel changes.

The review team also warned there was likelihood that Fujitsu would seek extra money at every stage of the integration of the core application with the infrastructure.

After nearly 10 years of disclosures in Computer Weekly about a series of failed IT projects to build a national system for magistrates courts, the Commons Public Accounts Committee asked the NAO to investigate.

Its report revealed that when Fujitsu made requests for more money, the department had no contingency plan to put into operation if the contract had been cancelled. It also disclosed that the department had failed to carry out any credible independent check on whether Fujitsu's initial bid price of £146m was realistic.

Despite plans to spend £390m on the new systems, Fujitsu is no longer delivering the core software. Instead the courts will rely on software developed by STL, which will enhance legacy systems dating back more than a decade.

Edward Leigh, chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, said this week, "The Libra project is one of the worst IT projects I have ever seen. It may also be the shoddiest PFI project ever."

Despite throwing money at the problem, he said the department still does not have a working national system. Fujitsu had performed badly and the department made some truly basic mistakes in how they ran the project. Fujitsu had "run rings" around officials, said Leigh.
 

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